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April 17, 2013

Doing it with Style

by Howard Fox Chartered Marketer

If you haven’t ever watched it, the TV show ‘Suits’ depicts New York’s best lawyer Harvey Specter, and brilliant college-dropout Mike Ross going about their high-powered lawyering while all the time dressed up in (obviously) their sharp power-suits. They look the part.

We are always told that one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but that is rubbish – it’s the only possible way to judge a book. Actually, publishers will tell you just how critical cover design is to sales. What has this to do with marketing? It’s all about positioning.

Most organisations, especially those during the start-up phase, are explicitly tied to the founder. As time goes on the senior team too represents the company. Eventually as the number of customers / clients grow, account managers or representatives are likely to be appointed. How these folk look and act impacts on the public perception of the company.

Getting your context

Think Bill Gates. Only the occasional suit here (annual financial results?). More open collar shirt, preppie pullover, and the side parting and glasses of an ‘I’ve-got-nothing-to-prove’ uber nerd. Perfect in the context!

So unless you are David Beckham who even manages to look cool playing the occasional game of soccer in his suit, you may rather want to consider what the most appropriate ‘look’ is, unlike my creative director at an ad agency early on in my career.

Now he rather liked a dark pinstripe power suit. Except clients expect the creative director to wear baggie pants and a hat – a significant disconnect which always affected the karma of creative pitches.

Finding your style

Howard and  Nonkululeko Nyembezi-Heita

Howard hosting Arcelor Mittal CEO Nonkululeko Nyembezi-Heita at GIBS

Some companies have an explicit dress code for their staff, but most don’t. So what is your company’s ‘style’? Is it short sleeve shirts and ties so liked by Dilbert – which says “techie (and proud of it) who wears this tie to tell you I appreciate your business.”  Or kakis and work boots with the intention of looking like someone prepared to walk the factory floor.

Those corporate branded golf shirts you have your sales reps wear- do they really send the right message? Certainly they are uniform, but clients want to think they are meeting someone of stature rather than a drone. Could this be hampering business?

Perhaps the money might be better spent on a clothing allowance for public facing staff? A power suit on the other hand certainly says ‘senior executive’ and ‘confident’ as well as ‘others have paid me good money for my services, so I must be good’ but it also hints at ‘expensive’.

To an extent the vehicle you and your client facing staff drive (if your customers see them) is also part of their ‘business attire’ and influences perceptions. Swooping up to your client in your new Merc SL 65 AMG makes as big a statement as does an 87 Toyota Tazz.

It’s about being congruent with your intended positioning. Flashy cars aren’t appropriate for a non-profit or charitable organisation any more than a clapped out skadonk is for an investment advisor.

It’s all about positioning

Positioning of the organisation’s senior executives goes beyond just their sartorial elegance. Their stature in the industry contributes via a halo effect to the organisation itself. Having your chief executive as the chairman of the industry’s professional body or serving on a prestigious judging panel all rubs off positively on the company.

Positioning your board and exco as thought leaders can only result in additional business. For little effort, inclusion in discussion panels or the occasional opinion editorial piece in a prestigious industry or business magazine creates a lasting effect.

Relying on senior business leaders to help position your business is not without risks, particularly in the rough and tumble of the South African business environment. It is critical to monitor all your organisation’s key players’ digital and press exposure.

Ensure you maintain Google alerts on anyone who has an influence on the company’s public perception, and consider a news clipping service for the ‘real world’ press. Fore warned is forearmed, in reputational management!

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